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COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 3

It's Three The Hard Way

UCLA: Bruins nearly waste a 17-point fourth quarter lead in 24-21 victory over Fresno State.

September 10, 2000|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The hangover kicked in a week later, complete with having to clean up a big mess and a massive headache.

Several of them, actually.

Fresno State was the biggest. The Bulldogs, coming off a 33-point loss at Ohio State, pushed UCLA to the migraine max Saturday night, playing the two-touchdown favorites tough the entire way and blowing through the defense in the fourth quarter to challenge for victory before the 16th-ranked Bruins escaped with a 24-21 victory, though not their pride, in front of 45,605 at the Rose Bowl.

The quarterback situation was big enough. Ryan McCann so frustrated Bruin coaches with his decision making that he was pulled in favor of Scott McEwan at halftime despite completing 12 of 23 passes for 106 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Emotions, those were not a problem. There may have been a comedown from their Alabama victory of a week earlier, the Bruins say, but there was no letdown.

"I think we were disappointed in our lack of execution," linebacker Ryan Nece said. "I don't think we were disappointed in the effort or the emotion we showed on the field."

The Bruins were left with a win that didn't feel like one. Even with DeShaun Foster following up last week's career-high 187 yards with 140 yards and two touchdowns, the Bruins got a post-party wake-up call and almost saw their house get trashed.

Oh, their aching momentum.

"Very unsatisfying," UCLA cornerback Ricky Manning said.

The same team--supposedly--that dominated the vaunted Crimson Tide defense could barely budge Fresno State a week later, managing only 270 yards total offense and taking just a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter, before Foster provided what would become a much-needed cushion with scoring runs of one and 49 yards.

While the Bruins lost their Alabama momentum, McCann lost his job, one week after stepping into a difficult circumstance as the replacement for injured Cory Paus early in the opener.

In went McEwan this time. Talk about difficult circumstances.

At least McCann had the advantage of competing for the starting job the first eight days of camp, meaning he got plenty of snaps. Even when that was reduced when Paus was named starter, McCann still got some practice work with the first team, just in case of injury. Also, he had the experience of starting last season against USC, a pressure situation no matter the standings.

McEwan, though, had gone the three weeks of fall practice getting only 20% or so of the snaps. That increased last week when he became the backup in the wake of Paus' separated shoulder, and Bruin coaches had talked all along about how pleased they were with his solid showings away from the McCann-Paus battle, but this was still a junior with 15 career passes.

Suddenly, he was called on to spark the offense and regain the lost momentum.

Coming off their biggest victory in years, the Bruins turned that inspiration into a deficit. A three-and-out opening drive culminated with punter Nate Fiske watching the snap, at his shoulders but not impossible to handle, fly through his hands. He recovered, but with a 23-yard loss.

Fresno State took possession on the Bruin six. Three plays later, Carr rolled right and threw a three-yard scoring pass to Alec Greco.

At least UCLA again showed the ability to respond to early adversity. A week ago, it lost Paus after the first possession, punted to Alabama and had the Crimson Tide turn that into a 71-yard touchdown return, but came back the next series to go 64 yards in 9 minutes 6 seconds. It was the kind of commanding drive that set the tone for the victory. This time, the Bruins answered the quick Fresno State score with a march that covered 83 yards, 15 plays and 5:42, capped by McCann's 20-yard throw to Freddie Mitchell.

And then everything went quiet. The Bruins got a 45-yard field goal from Chris Griffith with 1:10 remaining in the first half, but actually got greater help from the Bulldogs. Fresno State's Charles Smith would have scored on an 82-yard punt return early in the second quarter but was tripped up in the open field by one of his teammates, something UCLA could not come close to doing since Smith broke three tackles in what became a 75-yard return.

Bryce McGill inadvertently, and without reason since there were no Bruins nearby to block, cut in front of Smith, forcing him down at the UCLA seven. Then, turning a potential blooper the Bulldogs could have laughed about later into a critical play, they failed to score, ultimately being stopped on fourth and goal from the two when James Tillman was gang-tackled on a sweep.

It was with that backdrop that the Bruins had reason to feel both fortunate and disappointed with the 10-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter, emotions that were compounded because of the 17 yards total offense on 16 plays in the third. The start of the final period provided some relief, with Foster scoring from one and 49 yards for a 17-point advantage with 8:49 remaining.

But even that went bad. Smith caught a 16-yard pass from Carr with 7:48 left, making it 24-14. Smith then caught a 32-yard pass from Carr with 5:00 showing, making it 24-21 and making the Bruin defense that had played so well the first 1 3/4 games looked bad, seeing as it took Fresno State a total of eight plays and 1:32 to go 139 yards to close the gap.

The Bulldogs even had a chance to win, or at least tie. They had second and six at the UCLA 43 when a blown snap caused a fumble that was recovered by Bruin Marques Anderson with 1:17 remaining. That ended the comeback threat.

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